Luke Willson was an overlooked tight end at Rice, and a hockey-playing tight end from Canada at that. But he has turned into a big-play receiver for the Seahawks as they head into Sunday’s NFC Championship game.
Among the team’s tight ends, Willson was always the other tight end – the one who was born in Canada and used to play hockey and baseball – because of the presence of
But with Miller on injured reserve since mid-November and Wilson warming to Willson, the second-year tight end definitely has made his presence felt during the Seahawks’ run to Sunday’s NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field.
In last weekend’s 31-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers in the divisional round of the playoffs, Willson had a team-high four receptions – including a 25-yard touchdown catch and another 29-yard reception on the six-play, 58-yard drive that gave the Seahawks a 24-10 lead in the fourth quarter.
In the Week 16 game against the Cardinals in Arizona, Willson caught three passes for 139 yards – and two went for touchdowns in a 35-6 victory the Seahawks had to have to prevent the Cardinals from clinching the NFC West title.
“Luke has been a bigger factor,” coach Pete Carroll said this week.
Yes he has. Fourteen of his 22 receptions in the regular season came in the last seven games – including the 80- and 20-yard touchdown catches in the had-to-have victory over the Cardinals. And last week, he also had 6-yarder on a third-and-1 play where he went in motion to the left side before the snap and then came back to the right after the snap to prolong a 12-play, 69-yard drive to a fourth-quarter field goal.
“Luke has gotten downfield and caused some problems for opponents – big plays, because he’s a big, fast kid,” Carroll said. “He can really get downfield and stretch it out, and Russell has a great sense for him now. It just looks like the chemistry has really connected in the last month or six weeks or so.
“So it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal to have another weapon that can strike you like that. Hopefully we’ll be able to find him a couple times in this game.”
It was Willson’s combination of size (6 feet 5, 252 pounds) and speed (4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash) that first attracted the Seahawks and prompted them to select him in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft – with the third of their three picks in that round.
Willson was not so much a sleeper pick as a slip-through-the-cracks pick. He was a named athlete of the year as a junior and senior at St. Thomas of Villanova High School in LaSalle, Ontario, where he played baseball well enough to be selected to the Canadian Junior National team, as well as football, hockey, soccer and track.
Then it was on to Rice, where he was one of three tight ends as a senior on a team that just didn’t throw the ball that much.
“Rice is a great academic school,” Willson said. “But it’s not a big-time BCS football powerhouse by any means. So I didn’t have the huge games or the big bowl games. So in that sense, I feel I have a lot of potential that I can continue to reach.
“And when I was a senior, we had three tight ends and we all kind of all split time that last year. It was real interesting, to say the least. But I’m pretty happy with how things worked out.”
And that other Wilson is helping Willson make up for lost opportunities.
“It’s always good throwing to another Willson,” Wilson said with a smile. “That guy, he’s played some unbelievable football in the past several weeks. He keeps growing. A lot of people don’t know this, but he didn’t play that much football in college in the sense of getting a lot of catches.
“So when he got here, he had great hands already, had great speed. Just getting out there – getting the game reps, getting the practice reps against the best defense in the National Football League – he’s continuing to build his repertoire and just keeps going.”